Graphic Novels Overview, Part One: Format Guide

What is a Graphic Novel

The graphic novel is a distinct literary format that employs sequential art in the form of comic-strip-style illustrations throughout a book-length work to tell a complete narrative. Unlike traditional written books, graphic novels use shorter sentences and rely heavily on images to communicate the story. The sequential art in graphic novels is not just a complement to the written text; it is the driving force behind the story. The artwork is essential to the graphic novel format, much like the importance of visuals in a children’s picture book. The artwork in graphic novels collaborates with the text to create a cohesive storytelling experience. Unlike illustrated children’s picture books that often embellish the written text, the artwork in graphic novels collaborates with the text to create a cohesive storytelling experience. Graphic novels are longer than comic books and provide a cohesive storyline within a single volume.

Graphic novels, like comics and manga, use panels to organize the narratives. These panels are often presented as boxed segments that contain scenes or parts of scenes in the story and are divided by blank space known as the “gutter.” Graphic novels also use speech and thought bubbles, emanata, and captions to tell a story to readers. Unlike most comic books and manga series, graphic novels are usually published as regular bound books. They are more likely to be standalone works, but like other novels, they can be turned into a series.

Definitions by The Graphic Library

Comic books: are serialized stories featuring comic drawings, generally following the adventures of superheroes, villains, etc. These are usually presented in a single-issue, paperback format.

Graphic Novel: A story told with sequential, illustrated panels.

Original Graphic Novel (OGN): a story published in a full-length graphic novel without being published as single-issue floppies first.

Online Resources

Books to Learn More


-Stephanie Mahar

Stephanie’s Favorites

  • Huda F Are You?
  • by Huda Fahmy
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • Release Date: November 23, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-9
  • ISBN: 9780593324318
  • The Legend of Auntie Po
  • by Shing Yin Khor
  • Publisher: Kokila
  • Release Date: June 15, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 5-9
  • ISBN: 978-0525554899
  • Squad
  • By Maggie Tokuda-Hall & Lisa Sterle
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books
  • Release Date: October 5, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 9-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062943149
  • Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales
  • by Melanie Gillman
  • Publisher: Random House Graphic
  • Release Date: September 20, 2022
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-9
  • ISBN: 978-0593303184
  • Almost American Girl 
  • By Robin Ha
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • Release Date: January 28, 2020
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062685094
  • The Magic Fish 
  • By Trung Le Nguyen
  • Publisher: Random House Graphic
  • Release Date: October 13, 2020
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1984851598
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
  • By Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: May 7, 2019
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1626722590
  • Mooncakes
  • By Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Release Date: October 15, 2019
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1549303043
  • Check, Please! Book 1: # Hockey 
  • By Ngozi Ukazu 
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: September 18, 2018
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1250177964
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker
  • By Jen Wang
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: February 13, 2018
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1626723634
  • Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story 
  • By Debbie Tung
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Release Date: November 7, 2017
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1449486068
  • Nimona 
  • By N.D. Stevenson
  • Publisher: Quill Tree Books
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062278227

Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (#QP2022) Featured Review of The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

The Girl from the Sea Cover Art

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
ISBN: 978-1338540581 

Fifteen year-old Morgan is looking forward to finishing high school and leaving the small Canadian island where she lives. Her friends seem to not understand her, and she struggles relating to her angry little brother and divorced mom. When a mysterious girl named Keltie saves Morgan from drowning, they become friends– and eventually more– even though they both have secrets that threaten everything.

This graphic novel has colorful artwork with clean lines. Emotion is conveyed well through intimate character moments and expertly drawn facial expressions. Sparse text propels the reader through the story.

Continue reading Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (#QP2022) Featured Review of The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2022) Featured Review of The Tea Dragon Tapestry by K. O’Neill

The Tea Dragon Tapestry Cover Art

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by K. O’Neill
Oni Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
ISBN: 9781620107744

In this stunning conclusion to The Tea Dragon series, we continue with the story of Greta and Minette as they look towards the future. Greta struggles to discover her own crafting style, while attempting to create an extraordinary piece to impress a master blacksmith who is looking to take on an apprentice. At the same time, Minette struggles to decide if she should stay or go after she receives an unexpected package from the monastery where she once trained. With the support and love from friends and family, Greta and Minette will decide the next phase in their lives and find out where their place is in the world.

Continue reading Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2022) Featured Review of The Tea Dragon Tapestry by K. O’Neill

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2020) Nominees Round Up, September 5 Edition

Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey Vol. 1 by Akiko Higashimura
Seven Seas Entertainment
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
ISBN: 978-1642750690

An autobiographical tale of the author’s journey to becoming a full-fledged mangaka. Akiko dreams of becoming a popular mangaka, maybe before she even finishes high school! Although Akiko thinks very highly of her current skill level, her new teacher shows her that she has a long way to go and a lot to learn before she can reach her goal. Will it be a straight path to success or will she have to rethink her plans as she finds her way?

Continue reading Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2020) Nominees Round Up, September 5 Edition

OUTspoken: Teen Graphic Novels for Pride Month

Though Pride month recently wrapped up, the need for these titles lasts all year. These positive, inclusive graphic novels span many genres (contemporary, fantasy, mystery, memoir) and include LGBTQia* characters just going about their business, whether that be going to school, finding love, solving crimes, rescuing princesses, or reaping souls. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list – add your favorites in the comments below!

*lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual, asexual

Continue reading OUTspoken: Teen Graphic Novels for Pride Month

#QP2019 Nominees Round Up, April 24 Edition

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Macmillan / Flatiron Books
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
ISBN:  978-1-250-14790-5 

After years of living as transients to escape their bad luck, Alice and her mother Ella think they can finally settle down and have a normal life in New York. But people claiming to be “Hinterland”, characters from Alice’s grandmother’s collection of dark fairy tales, kidnap Ella. Alice and her classmate Finch travel to The Hazel Wood, her grandmother Althea’s estate, to rescue Ella and discover the truth about The Hazel Wood, The Hinterland and Alice herself. 

Continue reading #QP2019 Nominees Round Up, April 24 Edition

#GGN2019 Nominees Round Up, March 22 edition

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
First Second
Publication Date: February 13, 2018
ISBN: 978-1626723634

Up-and-coming Parisian seamstress Frances is given the opportunity of a lifetime when a patron hires her to make her unique designs full time. When the patron turns out to be the young and eligible Belgian prince Sebastian, who wears the gowns under the secret identity of Lady Crystallia, the two begin a collaboration that takes the Paris fashion scene by storm. That is, so long as Frances is willing to also keep her identity a secret to protect her new friend.

Continue reading #GGN2019 Nominees Round Up, March 22 edition

Women in Comics: Some Love Stories for February

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this month is a good time to consider the comics and graphic novels that you have on your shelf that will appeal to to fans of romance and love in all its forms. These books are just a few options for these readers.

Cover of The Prince and the DressmakerCast No Shadow coverI Love This Part cover

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang – Set in Paris in what seems to be La Belle Époque, Prince Sebastian is stuck between the wishes of his parents and his own wishes. His parents desperately want him to find a wife and have been setting him up on ever more pointless dates. He, on the other hand, wants to continue his life as it is, including his secret practice of periodically dressing in traditionally feminine clothes. When he meets Frances, who is an incredibly talented fashion designer and dressmaker, he quickly moves to employ her full time under the guise of having her serve as his personal tailor. Together they develop the fashion and persona necessary for him to take the city by storm as the daringly dressed Lady Crystallia. But, the pressure of his secret increasingly impacts both Sebastian and Frances and will test their friendship and their working relationship. Told with beautiful drawings and a fun-loving spirit, this is a great story about the pressures that society puts on people to conform and on the sorrow of having to hide your true talents and self.

Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky and art by Anissa Espinosa – Greg is used to his quirky life in his off-beat town. He may not have a shadow, but that doesn’t bother him nearly as much as his town’s continual attempts to find the perfect tourist trap. What he isn’t expecting is to find a mansion nestled in the woods just outside his little town where he meets and falls for a beautiful girl. But, it wouldn’t be Lancaster if things were that simple. She may be funny and sweet and cute, but she’s also very definitely dead. As their relationship grows, he’ll not only learn why he is the only person who can see her, but also resolve some of his personal issues along the way. This is a story not only of a budding new relationship, but also a story about the power of family, friendship, and remembering those who have died.

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin with art by Jenn St-Onge and Joy San – This new comic is a love story across the years. After meeting and falling in love in the 1960’s, Hazel and Mari are pulled apart by the demands of society. They marry men, have families, and find a certain type of happiness. But when they find themselves at a church bingo evening when they are grandmothers, they find that the spark has not extinguished even after all of these years. Now they have a second chance for love and the opportunity for the happiness they always wanted.

Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt with art by Isabelle Arsenault – This comic tackles a lot of tough topics, including divorce, alcoholism, being siblings, and first love, but it approaches them all with a deft hand. The story follows Louis as he moves back and forth between his parents’ homes. Louis is in the throes of his first serious crush on a girl in his class named Billie. As they move between his father’s house and his mother’s apartment, he and his brother, Truffle, must confront the realities of their father’s struggles with alcohol. Throughout it all, Louis is also consumed by his efforts to work up the courage to speak to Billie. The story is a relatable and heart wrenching one about both family love and first love that will keep readers rooting for Louis throughout.

I Love This Part by Tillie Walden – Told with spare language and illustrations in black, white and shades of greyish purple, this story shows moments in the lives of two girls as they bond over music, make their way through school, and develop a relationship that shakes both of them. Despite the limited use of text, Walden conveys powerful emotions and makes the reader empathize with both of these characters as they struggle to make sense of their emotions. By the end, readers will be invested in the journey of the two characters and wishing for more of their stories.

What are your favorite comics and graphic novels about love and romance? Let us know in the comments!

– Carli Spina, currently reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Women in Comics – Looking Ahead to 2018

As another year begins, it’s time to look ahead to the exciting new comics and graphic novels by women that we can expect in 2018. Hopefully this list will give you something to look forward to as the new year starts!

Cover of All Summer Long by Hope LarsonCover of Be Prepared by Vera BergasolCover of Moonstruck by Grace Ellis Continue reading Women in Comics – Looking Ahead to 2018

Women in Comics: Looking Ahead to 2017

Though it may be tough to believe that a new year has begun, 2017 is here and it brings with it some great comics by women! Below are some exciting comics that will be released in the coming months. Take a look and find something fun for this brand new year.

Mighty Captain Marvel coverSquirrel Meets World coverBatgirl and Birds of Prey cover

2017 is going to be a great year for superhero comics written by women. Marvel has a number of options coming up that are both by women and about women, with three debuting next August. Over the span of just a couple of weeks, we’ll see The Unstoppable Wasp, Vol. 1: Unstoppable! by Jeremy Whitley with art by Elsa Charretier, The Mighty Captain Marvel by Margaret Stohl with art by Ramon Rosanas, and Sif: Journey Into Mystery by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Kathryn Immonen with art by Ryan Stegman, Valerio Schiti, and Pepe Larraz. Versions of all of these character tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or will in the future, so they are great options for those who love the movies and want to start reading the comics too. There will even be options for those who aren’t fans of comics, with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World novel by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale coming out at the beginning of February. Continue reading Women in Comics: Looking Ahead to 2017